SAN DIEGO -- The comedy scene gets better every day in America's Finest City.
Martini's Above Fourth is set to join the proud list of comedy venues in the Hillcrest area, with a monthly Laugh Out Proud Comedy Show, featuring LGBT comedians and allies, and tailored specifically for the LGBT community. The show debuts Thursday, April 14, at 8 pm.
Produced by San Diego comedians Sean Wherley and Sarah Burford, the first Laugh Out Proud Comedy Show will exclusively feature gay and lesbian comedians; themselves as headliners, and special guests Lauren Holiday and Larry Tadlock.
Wherley and Burford met in May 2010 when they both performed at Twiggs Coffee Shop for one of Brew Ha Ha Comedy's all-gay shows.
"We’ve worked together several times since and just really seemed to click," Burford said. "We’re both from the Midwest, so we get each other."
In addition to sharing a connection, Burford and Wherley also appreciate each other's comedic talents.
"Sean tends to do a lot of smart observational comedy that kind of makes you think a little bit, and I appreciate that," Burford said. "So many younger, newer comics tend to go to the bathroom humor or sex to get a laugh and it’s nice to work with someone who takes the time to write a good joke and to perform it."
"Sarah’s style is accessible," Wherley said. "Audiences can relate to her and her subject matter, and that’s important given that no audience is the same and rarely includes but a smattering of LGBT folks."
The sentiment that they were not seeing enough LGBT folks in the audience was something they both shared as well.
"The idea for the Laugh Out Proud show was actually Sean’s brainchild," Burford said. "He and I have both done gay-themed shows with gay and lesbian comics, but they were always held in straight venues for mostly straight people. We both thought it would be great to do a show with gay and lesbian comics in a gay and lesbian venue for the LGBT audience."
Wherley added that he was also getting feedback from some of his LGBT friends that they were not comfortable going to venues in other parts of the city, so finding a venue in Hillcrest was a must. In January, they began searching for a venue and reached out to both LGBT comics and comics they refer to as "allies."
"Too often the LGBT community is the butt of comedy, specifically tired stereotypes, and that may discourage them from attending comedy shows," Wherley said. "By inviting out comedians to perform in front of a queer audience, it changes the dynamic. It’s easier to laugh at yourself when the jokes are being delivered by someone who is a member of and understands the targeted community.
"We also want to invite straight comedians who are savvy about the LGBT community. They have friends or family members who are queer and know a little something about us beyond tired stereotypes. Those factors will contribute to them being more comfortable performing in a gay bar in front of a predominantly LGBT audience."
"It’s easy to say you like gay people, but it’s another thing to be a straight comic doing a show in a gay establishment in a gay neighborhood and having your name and picture on the advertising for it," Burford said. "Straight comics who perform in this show will truly be comfortable with being a part of the LGBT community.
"Plus, the great thing about comedy is its common theme. Just because I talk about being a lesbian and dating women doesn’t mean straight people can’t relate. In fact, I perform mostly to straight audiences and everything I do translates over to them. This show is a little bit different than what I’m used to, because I’m performing for a mostly gay audience, so I may make reference to gaycentric things, but mostly my comedy is universal, and so is that of the other comics."
They are both excited that the first show will exclusively feature gay comedians. Holiday and Tadlock have worked with Wherley and Burford before, and they were an easy pick for Laugh Out Proud.
"Lauren Holiday is whimsical and personal. She talks a lot about her relationship with her wife," Wherley said. "Larry Tadlock is quite animated and draws on his Texas roots and how that influenced his coming out process."
"I like the diversity," Burford said. " We all have our own styles and our own life experiences to draw from, so even though we all talk about being gay or lesbian, we all do it from different places. Lauren for example, has a partner and they are married, so she draws from that, while I’m single and dating and draw from that. Then, we are a mix of men and women, so that adds another layer."
Although the show on April 14 will feature only gay and lesbian comics, Burford added that LGBT comics in San Diego are a small minority.
"We’d like to be able to possibly entice some L.A.-based out comics down for our shows, but there are also some very good straight comics out there who would be a good fit with what we’re doing as well," Burford said. "With both Sean and I being gay, there will always be an LGBT presence in our shows. That is our primary goal with Laugh Out Proud."
They share mutual goals for the future of Laugh Out Proud productions. They both want to produce the kind of quality show that will draw Southern California’s most talented out comedians, give the San Diego LGBT community a comedy show focused on them, and they both want to provide a venue within the gayborhood for comics to perform in front a largely LGBT audience.
Of the Laugh Out Proud venue - Martini's Above Fourth - they both said, they fell in love with the atmosphere and knew it was the ideal location.
"It’s intimate and stylish, and its low ceiling keeps the sound from bouncing around as much, like in some other comedy venues in town or other gay bars we considered," Wherley said.
"The place has a nice buzz, and it’s a little more upscale," Burford said. "Being a lounge, we also liked the fact that food was served in addition to drinks, and people could make a whole evening of it with dinner before or after the show."
Supporting these comedians is easy. No cover will be charged, and in lieu of the comedy club standard, two-drink minimum, attendees will be asked to purchase just two menu items. Don't worry, with Martini's Above Fourth's succulent and affordable menu items, it won't be a difficult task. Plus, if you arrive only, not can you snag a premium seat in the lounge, but you can also take advantage of their happy hour specials, featuring $2 drinks.
Comedian Sean Wherley
Wherley began exploring the idea of being a comic in 2008.
"I had been making kids laugh since the fifth grade and as I entered high school I realized it came pretty easily to me," Wherley recallws. "As an adult, people suggested that I pursue stand-up comedy, but I always dismissed it, either out of fear or the perception that it wasn’t a legitimate career.
"When I told my parents I don’t think either were surprised, given my longstanding need for attention. That happens when you’re the sixth of eight children."
Wherley took the stage for the first time in April 2009 at the Winston's in Ocean Beach. "It was nerve-wracking," he said. "Let’s just say my stomach didn’t calm down until hours later."
Since his first stage appearance Wherley has sought ways to challenge himself and improve his comedy.
"I like performing in new venues and trying new jokes," Wherley said. "It’s easy to get comfortable performing in the same place with the same jokes but venturing to new places with an unpredictable audience keeps you sharp. Producing and hosting the Laugh Out Comedy Show also allows me to host a show for the first time and create a show that fits my style."
Even though his comedy keeps him busy, Wherley has a very interesting day job, working as a speechwriter and community representative for state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego.
"Ideally, I would do comedy full time but it’s difficult to earn enough to make that happen. In the interim, I’m content to balance my ‘normal’ job in the day and comedy at night," he said. "Plus, my job requires that I read several newspapers each day and headlines can be a convenient start for a joke."
His favorite topics to joke about are being new to California, life in the Midwest where he grew up, and being gay. He is also a fan of comedians and programs that are extremely successful.
"My favorite comedian is Chris Rock," he said. "He’s high-energy, thoughtful, and sharp. His material transcends race, age, and gender and that explains his success."
Although he does not have cable service, and therefore does not watch TV, Wherely recalls that as a kid he loved to watch "In Living Color" and "Saturday Night Live." He does watch some programing online though, and said, "I try to catch online clips of 'The Daily Show' and 'Colbert Report.' I love how each of these shows draw from the headlines and offer biting critiques of the hypocrisies of politics and social conservatives."
With regards to comedic movies, Wherley has nothing but praise for “Something About Mary,” saying that at the time of its release, it was completely outlandish, unlike anything else.
Check out Sean Wherley performing at San Diego's Comedy Palace in 2009
Comedian Sarah Burford
Burford said she has always loved stand-up comedy, and considers herself lucky to have been a teenager in the late '80s and early '90s when stand-up was huge.
"I would watch all the TV programs like 'Live From the Improv' and get records of comics like Bill Cosby, Steve Martin and Joan Rivers," Burford said. "After I would listen and laugh I would go to school and repeat what I heard on the records, and make my friends laugh.
"When I was old enough, I started going to comedy clubs and to comedy shows. I always wanted to try stand-up, but I didn’t get up the nerve until I turned 40 and my friends dared me as a way to mark the moment. People have been telling me my whole life that I should be a comic, but you really can’t do it unless you believe it about yourself and you are ready to put yourself out there. When you are on stage, it’s just you and a microphone. There’s nothing to hide behind. You kind of just throw caution to the wind and do it."
Burford said of her parents' reaction to her comedy, "My mom isn’t quite sure what to think of it. She’s a doctor and very serious. I also think she’s worried I’m gonna talk about her … which I do.
"My dad passed away 18 years ago, but he was an actor and a performer, and I think he would love it. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my dad’s lap watching Victor Borga and watching my dad laugh hysterically. He was also gay, so seeing me perform as an openly lesbian comic in an LGBT venue would really mean a lot to him."
Her first time on stage, not counting the dare, was also in May 2009. "I was scared to death waiting to go up, but when I got that first laugh I was hooked," she said. "It was like someone gave me a big shot of comedy heroin and I couldn’t wait for another. I can’t believe I waited so long to try it. I should have listened to my friends years ago."
As far as comedic influences go, Burford said everything in her life is up for grabs. "The world is one giant pot of inspiration and ideas. The thing with making something funny that’s not funny on the surface, (Likes eggs, which I do in my act), is how you spin it. Comics just look at things differently than most people."
Burford challenges herself as comic by booking her into a variety of venues with a variety of audiences. "No gig is too big or too small," she said. "I’ve done everything from a full blown comedy show opening for a national headliner in a comedy club, to a show for six people in a juice bar. I also try not to pidgeon-hole myself into just doing comedy for one type of audience."
She likes to joke about relationships because everyone has been in one and everyone can relate. "People in general are also funny to me," she added. "Just the things they do and say … like putting clothes on dogs. So nothing is off-limits to me."
During the day, Burford works in public relations for the Navy. "I have fantasies about quitting my day job and devoting all my time to comedy, and that dream could come true, but I’m also a realist. I own a home and have responsibilities. There isn’t a lot of money in comedy. Most of us are working for tips."
For the moment, she juggles her time between comedy and work, which she said can sometimes be challenging, especially if she's had a very late night followed by a full day at the office.
When asked about her favorite comedian, Burford said she is a big fan of Margaret Cho. "I like her fearlessness, she will say anything about anyone, and I doubt I could ever do that, but I admire it in her.
"I also like smart comedy, so I don't currently have a favorite TV show. I think a lot of what’s out there today is just cookie cutter crap, but do love physical comedy, so 'Lavern and Shirley' is up there, and because I grew up in the Midwest, I found I could relate to the early seasons of 'Rosanne.'"
Of her Midwest upbringing, Burford says the most ethnic thing about her town was the Taco Bell. "I’ve always wanted to be a part of a big ethnic family. I have a lot of ethnic friends whose families have taken me in, and for those reasons my favorite comedy movie is 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' Nia Vardalis hit all the marks with that one. Good writing, good characters, good lines to quote. Coming from white bread middle America, I feel like Ian in that movie."